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Dateline 1858: Julia Archibald Holmes

First Woman to Climb Pikes Peak

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Dateline 1858: Julia Archibald Holmes

Julia Archibald Holmes, first woman to climb Pikes Peak in 1858.

Dateline 1858: Julia Archibald Holmes

Snowcapped Pikes Peak towers above sandstone cliffs at the Garden of the Gods, Colorado.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green Ian Spencer-Green hikes on Pikes Peak, Colorado.

It's a long arduous hike to climb 14,115-foot Pikes Peak.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

On August 5, 1858, 150 years ago, 20-year-old Julia Archibald Holmes reached the lofty 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak, perhaps the most famous mountain in the United States. Not only did Miss Holmes become the first recorded woman to climb the great Peak but she also was the first known woman to climb a Fourteener or 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. It wasn’t for another 23 years that another woman climbed a Fourteener.

First Glimpse of Pikes Peak

The newlywed Holmes ascended Pikes Peak over several days with James Holmes, her new husband, and a couple other miners. The group, headed for the Central City goldfields west of Denver, had trudged 500 miles west across the Great Plains from Lawrence, Kansas. Holmes first saw Pikes Peak on June 28, 1858 near Bent’s Fort along the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado. Excited by her first glimpse of the peak, she wrote, “This day we obtained the first view of the summit of the Peak, now some seventy miles away. As all expected to find precious treasure near this wonderful Peak, it is not strange that our eyes were often strained by gazing on it. The summit appeared majestic in the distance, crowned with glistening white.”

Holmes Wears Bloomers

The party continued traveling and encamped at today’s Manitou Springs below Pikes Peak. To climb the peak, Holmes, a women’s rights advocate, wore Bloomers. This scandalous outfit, a symbol of women’s liberation in the 1850s like the burning of the bra was in the 1970s, was named for Amelia Bloomer, another activist who urged women to wear a short skirt over a pair of loose trousers or “Bloomers.” Besides Bloomers and a skirt, Julia also wore moccasins and a hat, dubbing the outfit her “American costume.”

View from the Summit

On that dazzlingly clear August day, the young woman sat, read poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and wrote several letters, using a flat slab of granite as her desk. Julia Holmes wrote to her mother: “Extending as far as the eye can reach, lie the great level plains, stretched out in all their verdure and beauty, while the winding of the grand Arkansas is visible for many miles.” She also noted, “Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed I should succeed; and now, here I am, and feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all.”

Holmes Became a Suffragette

After climbing Pikes Peak, Julie Archibald Holmes and her husband kicked around Colorado but he found no gold so they walked south to Taos, New Mexico where they lived for several years. After returning back east, Holmes became a reformer, slave abolitionist, and suffragette for women’s rights. I have to believe that if Julie Archibald Holmes was alive now, she would still be pushing the boundaries of the possible—climbing 5.14 routes, trekking up great peaks in Asia, and continuing to fight for continued rights and tolerance for all citizens of the world. You go girl!

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